If you've yet to fish with flatwing flies, you're missing out. As beautiful as they are in the vise, it's their appearance and movement underwater that really sets them apart from other patterns.
In any discussion about flatwing flies, the name Joe Cordeiro will inevitably come up. Simply put, this New Englander has the techniques for tying flatwings down to a science. He also happens to be remarkably enthusiastic when it comes to tying and fishing them.
To get started, Joe's going to tie a single feather flatwing. Eagle Claw L253 hooks are his choice for nearly all his flatwing flies. Here's he's using a 1/0. A good deal of thread tension is needed to properly tie these so having a vise capable of firmly holding large hooks is absolutely essential. Along those lines, good strong thread is also mandatory. Joe prefers UNI-Thread 3/0 because it has a little bit of stretch and some surface texture which really helps it grip materials.
Start your thread behind the eye and take wraps rearward to completely cover the shank all the way to the hook point, then cut the tag end off close. Snip a small clump of hair from the base of a bucktail. These are more hollow then other hairs on the tail, so they'll flare when tied in, which is what you want for this step. Strip out the shorter lower hairs to leave a sparse bundle of only longer hairs.
Using your thread position as the starting point, measure the bundle so it's 2 hook lengths long then transfer this measurement to your other hand. Take that measurement and snip the butt ends of the fibers off at an angle about like this. While holding the bundle tightly between your fingers, tilt it up at an angle and with two firm pinch wraps, secure it to the hook shank so it kicks up like this. With your thumb, spread the hair out to form a broom shape over the top and sides of the hook shank. You can then cover the butts with wraps of tying thread. The buck tail will act as the bottom layer of the foundation of the flatwing.
Currently there is no one producing flatwing hackle to match Whiting's quality. There really is no substitute. Select a single hackle feather with a nice wide webby base that angles in to a long flowing tip. It should also have a good amount of soft fluff at the bottom.
Identify where the base of the stem changes dramatically in size and snip it off there while at the same time taking a small pinch of fluff from the stem. This little pinch of fluffy stuff is very important to the construction of a flatwing. Loosely dub it onto the tying thread and, after raising the thread to vertical, push the clump down and lower the thread to form a soft pillow. This pillow is the second layer of a flatwing's foundation. Notice how Joe just left it sitting on top of the shank and didn't take any additional wraps around it. This is all the foundation needed for a single wing flatwing.
Lay your hackle feather concave side down so it's fluff lands on top of the fluffy pillow. Make sure the feather lies absolutely flat on top of the hook.
Bill's Bodi-Braid is both the sentimental and practical choice for the body of a flatwing. Snip about 4 to 5 inches from the spool and give it a little tug to straighten it out. Lay the Bodi-Braid on the near side of the hook and take a single wrap of tying thread. Pull the braid rearward until it's butt end stops a little ways behind the eye. With a few quick pinch wraps, advance your thread up the shank, collecting the Braid and hackle fluff as you go. Once again, make sure the feather is directly on top of the shank. With your left hand, pinch firmly just above the hook point and take nice tight wraps of tying thread all the way back to your fingertips then advance your tying thread forward to behind the eye. You should be left with a smoothly tapered underbody.
Get a hold of the Bodi-Braid and, while pinching the flatwing, take a couple really tight wraps with the braid. Now advance the Bodi-Braid up the shank in overlapping wraps. Leaving a hook eye length behind the eye, secure the braid with tying thread and then snip it off close.
For the next step of the fly, you're not going to use hair from the lower part of the bucktail as you did before, but instead take it from the upper middle part of the tail. The procedure, however, is the same. You snip a small clump then strip out the shorter hairs. This time measure them so they extend rearward to the tip of the hackle feather, and then snip the butts off at an angle. Secure the clump of bucktail to the underside of the hook shank while holding it at an angle. Flatten it with your thumb to cover the bottom and sides of the shank then take wraps to cover up the butts. As you can see, this not only adds height to the fly, but width as well.
For the wing of the fly, the procedure will once again be the same but this time we're using yellow rather than white bucktail.
For flash, Joe doubles over 3 or 4 long strands of tinsel and then cuts the fold off so they're all straight together. He then ties the strands directly on top of the hook shank and pulls them so they extend well rearward off the back of the fly.
The next layer of the wing is olive bucktail prepared and tied in as before.
To top the wing, grab 7 long peacock herls and measure them so they extend just beyond the tip of the flatwing. Tie them in directly on top of the hook shank and cover the butts with wraps of tying thread.
Jungle cock eyes are really critical to the look of a flatwing. Select 2 neighboring, appropriately sized eyes from the neck. To correct and stabilize the eyes give them a quick drag across your dubbing wax. The wax also makes them tie in easier. Both color splashes should be visible behind the head to make the black part resemble a pupil. Carefully snip the butt ends off close and bind them down with wraps of tying thread.
A series of two whip finishes helps to keep everything secure and build the head of the fly. Finally, apply a liberal coating of head cement or "Hard as Nails" to complete your single wing flat wing. Again, as great as these flies look in the vise, it's underwater where they really shine. As you can see, subtly is the name of the game with flatwing flies. Notice that the fly has width as well as height and length, just like the bait fish it's supposed to imitate.